L. E. Modesitt, Jr.,

The Parafaith War

Reviewed October 12, 2019

Speculative fiction

A novel reminiscent of the roots of science fiction, exploring human nature and society along with the meaninglessness of war.

copyright 1997

I’ve seen this book on several “Top 10 Science Fiction Favorites” lists, so I decided to read it. The Parafaith War is certainly one of the better Modesitt books, in my opinion, even though it’s not quite my style.


The three-act structure and action-oriented narrative fit the hero’s journey plot archetype: Trystin Desoll, our hero, starts out in the planetary perimeter defense corps, becomes a starship pilot, and finishes as a spy on the enemy’s homeworld. Nothing really new there, but just because that three-act structure has become a standard Hollywood narrative doesn’t mean it’s trite. The specifics of the story and the questions it explores were enough to keep me reading.


The aphorism “Long periods of boredom broken by moments of sheer terror” seems to apply to Desoll’s entire career. The tedium and repetition of his day-to-day duties and even his actions during the many battles, whose description often varies only in small details, emphasize the automatic, unthinking responses that Desoll was trained and modified to deliver. That’s part of the reason for the war: the enemy believes that Desoll and his fellow technologically enhanced soldiers are no longer human, while Desoll’s side, the Eco-Tech Coalition, opposes the faith-based culture of the Revenants.


Punctuated with quotations from the Revenants’ Book of Toren, the Farhkan aliens’ Findings of the Colloquy, and the Eco-Tech Dialogues, the story explores Desoll’s unfolding notion that there has to be a better way than military force to solve a problem. The underlying hypothesis that technological and medical advances lead to population growth, which leads to overconsumption of resources, which leads to warfare, which decreases the population, is interesting.


The book also explores the limitations of technology coupled with the wielding of power through technology; the impact of bigotry on the ability to see the humanity of people who think differently; and the hypocrisy of moral absolutes, such as “thou shalt not kill” and “love they neighbor” versus the tendency to kill thy neighbor for religious reasons.


Although The Parafaith War isn’t the kind of science fiction I gravitate toward, the emphasis on battles rather than worldbuilding is likely to appeal to military historians, Civil War reenactors, veterans, and anyone who enjoys military-oriented adventure stories.